Blog Post

Objectives for Ensuring High-Quality and Inclusive Settlement Services

(This is one post in a series of posts from the National Steering Committee on Technology's final report: The Future is Now: Strengthening High-Quality, Inclusive and Innovative Hybrid Service Delivery. The post pulls key recommendation sections from the report to make them more accessible. In each key post, I provide an introduction, along with each sub-recommendation narrative and specific recommendations relevant to the sub-recommendation.)

High-quality and inclusive settlement services means that newcomers are at the centre of the design and delivery of settlement services, and can quickly, easily, and inclusively access services online and in-person.

Settlement Service Eligibility

Both PeaceGeeks (2021) and ACS (2021) also highlighted the need for an expanding service landscape for all newcomers regardless of their immigration status. This has been acknowledged in several reports, particularly related to the challenges SPOs face in serving international students and temporary foreign workers. While these demographics have traditionally not been part of the main target audience of IRCC eligibility, requiring “permanency” for service eligibility makes little sense since SPOs aim to improve the well-being of all community members and make every newcomer feel welcome in Canada by already serving these communities. Moreover, as AMSSA (2021-Appendix4) showed, newcomers with any status are already benefiting from digital-first services (publicly available websites, apps, etc.) which do not require eligibility criteria. From a service consistency lens, it is critical to operationalize SPOs’ service to all demographics.

Thus, recommendations emphasized that IRCC should enable SPOs to formally serve international students and temporary foreign workers. It is time to recognize this opportunity and make settlement services “welcoming for all” as Canada’s immigration system increasingly creates pathways to permanent residency for those with temporary status.

Settlement Service Eligibility Recommendations

Goal: All newcomers are eligible to use settlement services regardless of their immigration status.

Develop a strategy and action plan to align policy, funding, and service eligibility…

  • To meet frontline needs in serving international students, temporary foreign workers (TFWs), and refugee claimants

Welcoming & Easily Accessible Settlement Services

Recommendations emphasized the need to create more welcoming and easily accessible settlement services. They are grouped into two areas: information sharing about services, and further assistance to service accessibility.

Recommendations suggested that newcomer communities should be made aware of settlement services through sharing information about available services. All reports noted that newcomer profiles and demographics are changing so quickly, as are the types, nature, and rhythms of their settlement needs and how they can be met. And the pace of change is unlikely to slow.

From the perspective of newcomer information practices, information should be accurate, adequate and timely, carefully classified, easily accessible, culturally and linguistically tailored, and delivered by trusted sources through a medium that newcomers are already actively using. This would reduce confusion and cognitive load on newcomers, allowing them to act on information confidently and increase the likelihood of future service use.

Recommendations underscored the value of informal newcomer networks and social media and messaging platforms (e.g. WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook groups) in disseminating information about settlement services. Moreover, ACS (2021) recommended collaboration with other agencies, and community organizations as well as public and private institutions (e.g. libraries, religious institutions) to circulate information and create awareness.

ACS (2021) and IOM (2021) also highlighted the importance of providing information at the pre-arrival stage in terms of streamlining the immigration process, delivering accurate information, and managing newcomers’ expectations.

And lastly, recommendations suggested that wraparound services should be adequately provided to newcomers in ensuring their access to settlement services. Wraparound services are a broad range of tailored assistance designed to suit the particular needs of newcomers, such as providing transportation, childcare, or device support to enable them to attend programs, both physically and online. As reports suggested, this assistance has proved to be critical in creating a welcoming and inclusive service environment. SPOs should be supported with flexible funds to be responsive to these needs.

Welcoming & Easily Accessible Settlement Services Recommendations

Goal: Newcomers have access to accurate, adequate and timely information about settlement services and additional assistance is provided to ensure sustainable access to services.

Develop tools and resources to ensure welcoming and accessible settlement services by

  • Providing newcomers with clear and comprehensive knowledge about available settlement services and options for access
  • Ensuring access to settlement services is supported by case management and wraparound services including coordinated and holistic approaches that address family and community needs
  • Ensuring newcomers are empowered to access services based on their choice and preferences

Embedding Newcomer-Centred Approach into Programming

One of the central features of high-quality and inclusive services is putting newcomers at the centre of program design and development. This entails understanding newcomers’ needs and expectations, and co-crafting services and programs revolving around their experience, expertise, and goals. As reports highlighted, this admittedly requires resources, skills, and knowledge that may not be currently available through SPOs but which should be adequately supported by funders.

PeaceGeeks (2019, 2021) recommended employing an asset-based approach to operationalize a newcomer-centered lens in developing settlement services. An asset-based approach recognizes the assets, talents, skills, and capacities of newcomers as well as their communities and networks as opportunities for community development, and enables newcomers’ expertise to drive services. This method provides a strong alternative to solely focusing on a community’s issues and deficiencies.

PeaceGeeks (2019) highlighted the option for SPOs to conduct an asset-based review of communities they are situated in and identify potential to collaborate. Programs could be actively co-designed with community partners in order to generate innovative approaches to service delivery that address both newcomer and community needs. Some of these resources could be utilized in coordinating wraparound efforts.

Alpha Plus (2021) emphasized the necessity of intentionality in utilizing newcomer-centred approaches in designing a literacy learning framework for newcomers. They highlighted that it is not about integrating newcomers into a testing process for the sake of reporting. Rather, the active participation of newcomers should inform all aspects of program design and development.

Embedding Newcomer-Centred Approach into Programming Recommendations

Goal: Newcomers’ experience, expertise, and goals drive service design and delivery.

Create and support processes that learn from newcomer information and technology practices by

  • Taking into account the significant variation in context and needs within and between newcomer communities
  • Integrating this knowledge into the design of services catering to newcomer needs and access
  • Supporting research on newcomer pre and post-arrival information practices and technology uses
  • Building towards a more seamless settlement service journey for newcomers from pre-arrival to post-arrival

Digital Inclusion

The reports highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an immediate and widespread public need for reliable and equitable digital inclusion strategies. As NSIC (2021) pointed out, the pandemic exacerbated existing barriers for newcomers, particularly those with low language and digital literacy. AMSSA (2021) defined digital inclusion as “the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of technology. It requires intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to access and use technology.”

Every report contained recommendations explicitly related to digital equity and inclusion, touching on both structural and individual level aspects of inclusive digital access. At a structural level, digital inclusion is about creating an enabling ecosystem (e.g., access to electricity, the Internet, devices, and quality of that access) and a supportive environment (e.g., particularly in terms of affordability, trust, and security). At an individual level, it is about having material access (e.g., infrastructure, speed, as well as costs associated with connectivity), digital skills, individual motivation to acquire and use technology, and social and demographic factors shaping them.

As reports highlight these as parameters of the digital inclusion agenda, recommendations underscored that the sector should establish concrete guidelines on digital inclusion and equity to ensure high-quality and inclusive settlement services for newcomers.

The sector-wide discussion should first aim to provide a shared understanding of what digital inclusion means and goals and priorities of action. Across reports, it is evident that what it means and what is needed to be digitally included in hybrid service delivery should be informed by social justice and an equity lens. Both IOM (2021) and AMSSA (2021) detailed the contextual complexities of digital access and connectivity in newcomers’ lives. Gender, race, ethnicity, education, socio-economic status, immigration status, age, urban/rural divide, and living with disabilities continue to shape newcomers’ digital inclusion. Moreover, newcomers with lived experiences of intersectional inequalities have to confront compounded difficulties.

As IOM (2021) recommended, development of digital inclusion efforts should be based on newcomers’ digital experience and their preferences across digital channels. It is nevertheless critical to find the right balance between familiarity, usability, and security and privacy as new digital opportunities are considered.

Additionally, recommendations emphasized the importance of recalibration in digital inclusion efforts. According to IOM (2021), the transition to digitalization should not come at the price of sustained investment for in-person group training, which is critical for immigrants, and particularly refugees, as they prepare for their new life in Canada. There are critical human components to service delivery that technology will never be able to replace. This echoes AMSSA (2021)’s recommendation that we should not assume that once individuals have access to technology or the internet, they will access services independently or that they will want to be served digitally. Incorporating non-digital and low-technology approaches should also be viewed as part of hybrid service delivery continuum.

As recommendations highlighted, this baseline on digital inclusion understanding can be utilized to develop strategies and action plans to enhance hybrid service delivery. AMSSA (2021) proposed the establishment of digital inclusion grant programs to assist the promotion of digital inclusion initiatives in the sector. NSIC (2021) recommended identifying best practices on cybersecurity, privacy, and digital literacy.

Digital Inclusion Recommendations

Goal: Services are based on a digital equity and inclusion strategy which reflect newcomers’ experience with technology.

Create a sector-wide commitment to digital inclusion and addressing the digital divide by

  • Embedding digital inclusion into a sector-wide digital transformation strategy, including at the digital services level
  • Basing inclusion on newcomers’ digital experience and preferences
  • Supporting sector-wide digital inclusion grant programs

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